New book offers tips to help small retailers compete

The National Retail Federation predicts tax rebate checks will pump $43 million into the waning economy as consumers spend. With 41 percent of Americans indicating they plan to spend their handout, how can small retail business owners stake claims to some of the disbursements? How do they compete for their fair share of second-quarter spending when consumers flock to retail giants like Wal-Mart, Costco, and Target to try and get the most for their money?

Authors Steve O'Leary and Kim Sheehan of the new book, Building Buzz to Beat the Big Boys, say a small business owner's competitive advantage is word of mouth marketing.

Today's marketing environment has changed. Traditional advertising such as television, newspaper, and direct mail is still important to build awareness of a business –– but it is no longer enough.

WOM is now the most effective form of promotion available as it combines the most modern strategies, tactics, and channels with the most basic human behavior: People talking to people.

There is a basic road map to the process of creating word of mouth and customer communities called the four C's –- customers, conversations, community and commitment.

Customers – It is important to remember that today's consumer is different from the customer of five years ago. They want more information, and they want opportunities to provide feedback to the store owners. These dialogues are the first step in enhancing relationships with customers.

Conversations – Word of mouth leads to buzz. Newsweek defines buzz as "infectious chatter; genuine, street-level excitement about a hot new person, place or thing." Identify your store champions who help create the buzz for the store and its products or services.

Community – Community is a group of people who share social interaction and some common ties and who share an area (that is a physical space) for some of the time. Local coffee shops have embraced and marketed this concept to build store champions. An online community (where you share cyber space) is also a key element of your WOM marketing campaign. According to a Synovate/Marketing Daily survey, eight out of ten Americans know what a blog is and almost half have visited blogs.

Commitment – An online community should be the central focus of community-building efforts. There are three different ways to support and enhance an online community: in-store (get community members off their computers and into your stores); employee (have your sales staff meet the members of the community); and outreach (become involved in an issue, a cause or a charity organization). One key market to target is the senior community. Over the next 10-15 years, the number of Americans aged 50 plus will total more than 115 million. Plus, seniors 50 and older own 80 percent of financial assets in the U.S. and control 50 percent of disposable income.

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